Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Landscapes: Acrylic vs Oil

I took my acrylics to the field. I went to a highway about three exits down the freeway, took a less traveled road up the hills, parked the truck by a small tree by the road and looked down. There was no path and no way to walk beyond the road's edge unless I wanted to roll. So I went to three other roadside sites before I settled under a large, moribund bush, hidden from the high speed cars. It was noon and everything cast a sharp shadow. Hungry cows mooed near the creek I was certain existed down the canyon. Cyclists held their loud dialogues, oblivious to my presence. Another bush obstructed my view, but by now I had realized this was the best view I could hope for.

Acrylic paint dries ultra fast, if all you've been using is oil for the past five years. Yet I was determined not to spend hours "...trying to breathe 'life', to breathe 'resonance' into an otherwise rather impersonal 'plastic'," in the words of Mark Jacobson. I had made my peace with acrylic in college, during assignments that forced me to start and finish a painting in a day. My issue was simply finishing in a period of two hours, and wresting with the lavender hill in the middle, which refused at all costs to yield the secret of its personality. I would have had this same struggle (or perhaps a worse one) had I been using oils, I reasoned. In the end I finished a satisfactory version of what I saw in my studio.

Earlier that week, I had been to the very familiar park behind my house, walked a few minutes past the gate, and found myself at the top of a small hill overlooking a path leading (where else?) into another creek. It was noon or shortly after noon, and I was wearing my polarized lenses, hemp hat, and paint-stained shirt, looking exactly like those excentric middle-aged ladies I avoided in art school. It was windy and dry. Wasps had decided to check out my palette and I was so busy trying to tie a rock to my aluminum easel that I did not see the dog walker who slowly, subrepticiously, crept up to take a peek. She said hi. I said nothing, pretending I hadn't heard. Wasn't my look eccentric enough? I waved and she got the message. After taking one last good look, she walked away and I went back to the business of landscape worship. In this painting the only struggle was the combination of wind and dryness conspiring to prevent adequate color mixing. I was trying to keep in mind the words of Brad Faegre: "Time is not the enemy with acrylics. Think of the fast-drying characteristics of the medium as an invitation to paint and repaint, until you see something you like."

2 comments:

Pitipua said...

Have you tried using retarder? I use Golden's, and even though it won't wait ages for you, it will prolong wetness enough to mix several times. I've never used it outside though. You know me, butt firmly attached to a comfy chair inside. Another bonus feature is that I sprinkle it liberally over my unused palette and it will last usable (in a covered container, of course) for an extra couple of days at room temperature.
CD

Egret said...

The bright green trees on the ridge are California Black Walnut. There are two of them and they are unusual trees to find. I've walked this path beside the trees for thirty years and seen these trees grow. My personal myth is that they were planted purposely by Native people to mark an important viewing spot of the surrounding land. These walnut trees mark a 'power spot' that I find very pleasant and inviting. Birds enjoy the trees as well. If you look on the ground in Fall and Winter you'll find the very hard round black walnut seeds. These seeds should be taken to other human 'power spots' and planted. We will communicate this way to future generations through the shape and symbol and placement of a native walnut tree. Keep your eye open for trees like these. Nice painting of a place I love. The spiky plant in the foreground told me exactly where you painted from.